‘So how many visitors do you get?’ I asked Sydney Allicock, who runs the only guesthouse in Samara Village, a pinprick in the middle of Guyana. ‘About eighty or ninety,’ he said. ‘Per year?’ ‘Per year, yes. If we could get the numbers up to maybe four or five hundred, that would be good for the village economy.’
As well as running the guesthouse, with its four double-bedrooms, Sydney is also the leader of the Samara Amerindian Development Council and the kind of person you meet all too rarely in life: a thoughtful visionary, fully in touch with his Amerindian background and heritage, but also aware of the future.
‘That road you came in on,’ he told me, ‘runs all the way from Brazil up to Georgetown on the coast. To get to Samara you then have to come off that road and bump down the dirt track. That main road is still very rough, but it is soon going to be improved and it will bring the world to near our doors. We must be prepared. It will bring greater diversity of jobs for people. Everybody does not like farming. We must have other jobs so that people can choose how to spend their lives.’
Samara has only a few hundred people, most of them living off farming in this open patch of grassland surrounded by the Guyanese rainforest. Jaguars occasionally kill horses and cattle, and sometimes people too. The next night, showing another side of his nature, Sydney slowly downed the best part of a bottle of vodka, with no apparent effect, and told me tales of close encounters of the jaguar kind.
‘Jag-wars can carry off calves and horses. Lots of villagers have been attacked too, and sometimes killed. I came across one when I was walking through the fields one day. It jumped on me and cut me, but I managed to stun it by punching it in the head, so I turned to run back to the village. ‘Foot give me justice,’ I said as I ran.’
Sydney’s foot gave him justice then, and he wants to see justice and prosperity in the village, in an area where the local Amerindians have sometimes been as fearful of each other as they are of the jaguars that lurk in the jungle.
‘In the past we were all afraid of each other,’ Sydney said. ‘One tribe was afraid of the next tribe, that they might come and make war. Today we must work together, and help each other. We would like to see the sort of development here that is lying dormant. The development of our culture, development that should go hand in hand with nature. We’re looking to being educated. Everything that we have taken for granted at the moment, like the wildlife and the natural beauty, we should take a look at. We would like to find a way that would not be harmful to the environment and not to ourselves.’
I was totally gripped by Sydney’s quietly-spoken wisdom. He went on. ‘We must learn to respect our own language more, look at partnerships with other cultural and ethnic groups. It’s the kind of development that we need all over the world. Every day there are tens of millions of dollars spent on arms. Why? We must look here at why we are living, why we are born.’